NASHVILLE - Senators today approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to limit jury awards in civil damage lawsuits.
The 21-12 vote was largely along partisan lines and followed some four hours of often contentious debate.
It caps damages for noneconomic damages like pain and suffering at $750,000. In "catastrophic" cases such as severe burns or paralysis, the cap is $1 million.
House members passed the bill earlier this week, but the Senate version must go back to the House to deal with minor changes.
Republican proponents said the business-backed bill boosts job creation by promoting more predictability for companies.
"It's the global economy," Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, told colleagues.
Norris said lawmakers "on both sides of the aisle have railed all year long about the importance of jobs and economic competitiveness. What we're discussing is legislation that's designed to put us on a level playing field and, most importantly, it is designed to provide predictability and certainty for businesses."
Democratic opponents, however, charged the bill substitutes the judgment of state lawmakers for that of juries and also rewards "bad actors" and swindlers like ponzi-scheme operator Bernie Madoff.
Juries, said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, are a "way for citizens to play the most important role we have in our society" and serve as a "check on the abuses of power.
"Who better to make these decision in society? We do not allow the powerful ... and the rich to make these decisions but our juries," Berke said.
Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belivere, later chastised colleagues, saying, they "put a price on the life of our children. They put a price on the life of our parents and grandchildren. They put a price on the life of the weak, the paralyzed, the neglected - all under the guise of economic development."